We go to Florida pretty much every year since my mom and many of my relatives are there. My mom was born and raised there so most of my mom’s side of the family resides in and around the Orlando area.
Being a photographer, a boater, and loving birding we like to head out on the St. John’s River and rent a pontoon for the day. Not only is it beautiful and relaxing but it also provides ample opportunity for some wildlife viewing. The River is over 300 miles long and the longest river in Florida. My mom has tons of stories about what her (my) relatives did along the St. John’s River back in the prohibition days. We take her along with us and she recalls story after story after story as we pass by little towns or waterways, Uncle so and so did this, Grandpa did this, and so on. Not sure what kind of family I really came from???? I do know my great grandfather was the Sheriff of Orlando back a long, long time ago so there was some good in my DNA.
Hontoon Landing Resort and Marina is in Deland, Florida along the St. John’s River. They provide 24′ pontoon boat rentals for a reasonable price and you can spend the day navigating the waterways and soaking up the atmosphere. The spend a bit of time with you in the morning giving you a thorough check out and explanation of their rules, regulations, navigation routes, where to go, what to see, and to be on the lookout for manatees.
You do need to be very careful if you are boating in the winter to watch out for the manatees. You very quickly learn the water pattern to detect a manatee ahead and change course or slow down or even stop. Depending on the clarity of the water, the depth of the manatee, and the angle of the sun it can be very difficult to spot them unless you observe the surface of the water. I always sit at the front of the boat and keep on manatee watch.
We do head over towards Blue Springs State Park which is a very popular tourist destination for manatee watching this time of year. Arriving at the park by boat is much preferable than by car due to the sheer volume of people this park attracts due to the large number of manatees. Yes, we do see tons of manatees. And we are always very careful around them.
There are some narrow areas to try and navigate but the marina is pretty good to let you know which of the waterways are now overgrown and that you are unable to pass in the pontoon.
And we see lots of wildlife.
This has gotten to be a yearly activity for us and we really look forward to it. Some winters we have had to bundle up to stay warm against the bitter cold of the a Florida February. Amazing.